China's investment in and development of unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) technology is increasingly geared towards enhancing the autonomy and mobility of the platforms, as shown during this year's 'Crossing Obstacles' UGV competition.
Participating in the competition, which was held from 12 to 23 September at a training ground in Beijing's Changping District, were 61 'leading units' (14 military and political colleges, 26 private enterprises, 10 state-owned enterprises, and 11 research institutes) and 136 teams, said China's Ministry of National Defense (MND), pointing out that there were four categories and a total of 10 competition groups.
The aim of this year's contest, which saw a sharp rise in the number of participants, was to examine how the vehicles can navigate across extremely challenging terrain while simultaneously performing tasks.
The setting for this year's competition, which is seen as the Chinese equivalent to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge, was more demanding than that of previous years (2014 and 2016). The teams were expected to carry out dynamic path planning, navigate through GPS-denied areas, conduct target identification, carry out reconnaissance missions, overcome obstacles, and perform battlefield manoeuvres.
The environment chosen for the contest was designed to emulate combat conditions as realistically as possible. For instance, the 12 km-long route featured rivers, inclines, ditches, trenches, muddy sections, grassland, bogs, sand, rocks, gravel roads, steep slopes, gullies, path obstacles, smoke obscuration, as well as signal interruptions.
Mobility is often challenging when it comes to autonomous capabilities. When satellite navigation signals are disturbed, the vehicles are forced to use inertial navigation units (INU), real-time positioning, and 3D mapping to acquire their positioning information, which is undoubtedly more difficult.
Some of the teams that took part in this year's competition concentrated their research on mobility systems, particularly the suspension. Wheels and tracks fitted to independently elevated arms aided the platforms when overcoming high obstacles and traversing muddy terrain.
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